(UPDATED) Federal Judge Rules Against Health Reform Law

Amie Newman

A federal judge in Virginia has ruled in favor of Virginia's Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli's lawsuit. Judge Hudson, a Republican favorite, determined that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's central provision - that all Americans must purchase health care - is unconstitutional. What happens next?

This post was updated on 12/13/10, 7:30pm EST

Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia is having a good day. Cuccinelli filed a case against the health care reform law earlier this year claiming the law was unconstitutional; this morning, a federal judge in Virginia agreed, in part. Judge Hudson (appointed by President George W. Bush) ruled that the law’s central provision mandating that individuals purchase health insurance “exceeded the regulatory authority granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.”

The federal government did not see things the same way. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Lawyers for the Department of Justice argued that Congress has the right to regulate health care because every American at one time or another will participate in the system. Unpaid medical costs amount to $43 billion a year.

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Cuccinelli is one of 20 Attorneys General around the country (all but one are Republican) who filed lawsuits against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Thus far, reports the New York Times:

Judge Hudson is the third district court judge to reach a determination on the merits in one of the two dozen lawsuits filed against the health care law. The others — in Detroit and Lynchburg, Va. — have upheld the law.

The National Women’s Law Center’s co-President, Marcia D. Greenberger, in a statement distributed this afternoon calls the decision “legally incorrect and harmful to women if affirmed” but says,

“Fortunately Judge Hudson’s ruling today is not the final word on the constitutionality of a key aspect of the new health care law.  It should be overturned promptly to protect millions of women and their families in Virginia and beyond who are already reaping tangible benefits from the Affordable Care Act.  For them—especially those who are uninsured and have pre-existing conditions—this decision is not an abstract constitutional debate.”

The New York Times notes, however, that Judge Hudson is following in a long line of Republican anti-Obama administration rulings. It’s why rulings like this one are being seen more as a “political assault” against the White House than an honest assessment of and decision about a law’s merits.

The opinion by Judge Hudson, who has a long history in Republican politics in northern Virginia, continued a partisan pattern in the health care cases. Thus far, judges appointed by Republican presidents have ruled consistently against the Obama administration while Democratic appointees have found for it.

Media Matters, writing earlier this year about Judge Hudson’s long standing ties to the GOP, notes that legal experts “from across the political specrtrum” have said that the health reform law’s central tenet is not unconstitutional.

Cuccinelli’s lawsuit also requested that the law be immediately blocked from implementation in his state. However, Judge Hudson denied the petition to halt the law from being implemented.

The federal government will likely appeal the decision.

News Law and Policy

ACLU of Indiana Sues State Health Department, County Prosecutors Over Ultrasound Law

Michelle D. Anderson

The official digest language for the law says that pregnant patients considering an abortion “must be given the opportunity to view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone” at least 18 hours before an abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood joined forces again on Thursday to challenge an anti-choice law that the organizations say will prove burdensome for reproductive clinics and their patients alike in Indiana.

The two parties filed a lawsuit on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to challenge a provision of the omnibus HEA 1337, which requires an ultrasound at least 18 hours before an abortion procedure.

The official digest language for the law says that pregnant patients considering an abortion “must be given the opportunity to view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone” at least 18 hours before an abortion. At the same time, the clinic must obtain the state-required “informed consent.”

The provision went into effect July 1. Prior to its enactment, Indiana law required an ultrasound but did not mandate the time at which the imaging had to be provided. As such, clinics typically performed ultrasounds right before the procedure.

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The plaintiffs claim the new law would require many patients to make two lengthy trips to obtain an abortion or pay for an overnight stay in order to receive care. This, Planned Parenthood officials said, would also burden its majority low-income clientele by causing them to lose at least a day of wages and by potentially requiring them to arrange special child care.

The law, the plaintiffs argue, would also cause clinics to become more crowded, delaying abortions to the point where some patients may not be able to receive care within Indiana’s legal limits. Indiana bans abortions after 20 weeks except when the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Betty Cockrum, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, told the Indiana News Service the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against Texas’s omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB 2, opened the door for the organization to seek further review of Indiana’s laws.

In an official statement, Cockrum said the 18-hour ultrasound requirement was “unduly burdensome” and added no value to the state’s already restrictive abortion policies.

The 10-page lawsuit, which argues that there is no medical justification for an ultrasound 18 hours before an abortion, lists Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams and the prosecutors of Marion, Lake, Monroe, and Tippecanoe Counties as defendants.

As commissioner, Adams is the “duly appointed official” in charge of the agency responsible for licensing abortion clinics pursuant to Indiana law, the suit explains.

Similarly, the prosecutors of the four counties listed in the lawsuit, help enforce the laws that the four Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortion care in Indiana must adhere to.

While Planned Parenthood has 23 health centers throughout the state, it only provides abortions in Bloomington, Merrillville, Indianapolis, and Lafayette.

Thursday’s lawsuit is the second legal action Planned Parenthood has taken against Indiana officials in recent weeks to challenge laws the health-care provider says could make securing abortion care cumbersome or impossible for state residents.

On June 30, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to block several provisions in HEA 1337 that would have kept a pregnant person from terminating a pregnancy when an abnormality, such as a life-threatening disability, is present in the fetus.

The lawsuit filed Thursday asks for the law to be blocked during the trial and until the court makes a decision, a declaration that the ultrasound provision is unconstitutional, and an monetary award for the plaintiff’s attorney fees.

News Law and Policy

Federal Judge Blocks Fetal Anomaly Law From Going Into Effect in Indiana

Michelle D. Anderson

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted a preliminary injunction against the law's final disposition and sex, race, and genetic anomalies ban on Thursday, just a day before the law was to take effect.

A federal judge has blocked several provisions of an omnibus anti-abortion law that would have placed restrictions on the circumstances under which a pregnant person could decide to terminate their pregnancy.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted a preliminary injunction against the law‘s final disposition and sex, race, and genetic anomalies ban on Thursday, just a day before the law was to take effect.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana to file a lawsuit and request an injunction in April, according to a local ABC affiliate.

Under the provisions halted by the injunction, pregnant persons across the state would have been banned from aborting a fetus based on an abnormality or race or gender-related reasons, among others.

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The Indiana General Assembly passed the law, also known as House Enrolled Act 1337, in March. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, signed the act shortly thereafter that month.

A similar bill failed to pass in the Indiana legislature last year. The version Pence signed this spring included a mandatory ultrasound requirement, a provision targeting fetal tissue donation, and a measure requiring physicians to provide information about hospice care to a pregnant person “who is considering an abortion because the fetus has been diagnosed with a lethal anomaly,” as previously reported by Rewire.

Reproductive health groups have said the notion of race and sex-selection abortions are based on misinformation, and disability advocates have said that HEA 1337 promotes speculation among physicians and perpetuates false narratives about the disabled community.

In her concluding statement, Pratt cited Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and said that the Supreme Court has made it clear a state “may not prohibit any woman for making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.”

She went on to say the law’s information dissemination provision was “likely unconstitutional” as it requires abortion providers to convey false information regarding anti-discrimination provisions to their patients.

John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, called HEA 1337 “a harmful piece of legislation” and noted that legislators from both parties had criticized the measure, in a statement on Thursday.

“Today’s ruling by a federal judge emphasizes just how out of touch Gov. Pence’s ideology is with everyday Hoosiers and the law. The governor’s political agenda has caused real harm to the state’s already sluggish economy while also putting our reputations in further jeopardy,” Zody said.

Indiana Right to Life panned Pratt’s decision and noted that she blocked provisions of an Indiana law that denied taxpayer funds to abortion businesses and required that pregnant people be informed about a fetus’ so-called ability to feel pain in 2011.

The notion of fetal pain, as promoted by Stanford University School of Medicine professor Dr. Kanwaljeet “Sunny” Anand, was debunked in an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005.

The fetal anomaly law was among nine laws set to go into effect on Friday, according to the Indianapolis Star. One of the nine bills includes a law instituting new guidelines on police body and dashboard camera footage that will allow local police departments to decide whether it will release videos. Members of the public will be allowed to appeal a police department request for footage, according to the Star.